What should Christians know about the debate?
Part 1: Origin and Biblical History of Alcohol
There is a debate; in fact, it is often a heated debate. I am repeatedly asked about alcohol by various Christians; for example, some who use wine as communion and others who use grape juice. So I am pulled into the debate from time to time, even though I tend to avoid it. The Bible gives insight on this issue. So in an effort to be prepared, I have studied the subject to see what the Bible says.
God dictates what is right and wrong and is the absolute authority on every subject, including alcohol. I grew up in churches that were predominantly teetotalers (no drinking at all). And during that time, I rarely knew what the Bible said, but often just trusted what people told me the Bible said. But when I decided to study the subject regarding what the Bible says, it was not only eye-opening but also exciting and yet relaxing to see how God’s Word sets the record straight.
Before I get into the debate about drinking versus no-drinking though, I wanted to address the origin and history of alcohol. There are a lot of secular stories floating around out there, but again, we will see what the Bible says (hence, look at the truth) and what we can learn from it. This will be done in a chronological fashion encompassing aspects from Creation, after the Fall, after the Flood, and results from Babel.
Some basic terminology
Wine, in its broadest sense, could be fruit wines, honey wines, or grain wines.
- Fruit Wine: Wine made from fruit like apple wine or grape wine. Grape wines are by far the most popular. Some of these can be accepted with other fruits (e.g., passion fruit accents in Moscoto grape wine). Wines are usually 9-16% alcohol by volume (ABV) but can be much higher than this typical range.
- Honey Wines (Meads and Melomels, which are accented meads): honey based. Melomels are mead with fruit additions. For example, blackberry mead is mead with blackberry accents for flavor. Honey wines usually ranges from 8-18% ABV.
- Grain Wine or Beer/Biere: malted barley based and sometimes wheat, rice or corn additives: ales (typically top fermented at room temperature) and lagers (typically bottom fermented at cold temperature) or other grain alcohols (rice, wheat, corn, etc.). Beers are usually at 4-6% alcohol by volume (ABV) unless you do it as a double or triple (think of a Doppelbock or Tripelbock style). With some significant extra effort one can get it to 8-12%. Beers are generally low alcohol compared to wines, meads, and especially distilled liquor.
- Distilled Liquor: these are the strong ones, no less than 20% ABV but can range up to 95% ABV. Heating and evaporating off the alcohol from beer, sugar-based alcohol, or wine and recollecting it by condensing it together in high concentrations make these. These distilled alcohols are not considered wine at all, even though they have their origin in wine.
Biblical origin and history of alcohol
- Creation and Alcohol
God created all things during the 6 days of Creation Week (God rested on the seventh day). Now this doesn’t mean that all the people alive today were living during creation week! When it comes to people, animals, or plants, etc., descendants living today go back to these original created kinds. In the case of humanity, that would be Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-47) and Eve (Genesis 3:20) our first parents.
This would have been roughly 6,000 years ago based on the genealogies from Adam to Christ (who was about two thousand years ago) and tack on 5 days before Adam. Hosts of chronologists, from Jews like Josephus to Christians like Ussher, tallied these genealogies up over the past 2,000 years and arrived dates very similar to this. Some places are not straightforward to compute, so the dates vary ever so slightly. Exodus 20:11 give a good reason to believe the creation days are normal-length days, as does Christ in Mark 10:6 when affirming man and woman came at the beginning of creation.
The recent secular humanistic/naturalistic idea of an old earth has not been part of Christian vocabulary until recent times where Christians have been, sadly, mixing their religion with this humanistic religion. For those who wish to know more about this subject, I highly recommend you visit websites that deal with this in greater detail like http://www.answersingenesis.org and http://www.icr.org.
Back to creative acts in Genesis 1, God created laws of nature by which He upholds all things (Hebrews 1:3) in a consistent fashion. For example, consider Genesis 8:22. With laws in place, the existence of alcohol was now possible as it is simply a set of molecules bonded together. Let me explain what alcohol is for moment.
What is alcohol?
There is a little science in this, but don’t let it scare you. Alcohol comes in various forms and are basically molecules that have OH (one oxygen that is bonded with one hydrogen) that together are bonded to a carbon atom (C) that has three other bonds attached to that carbon. In other words it would look like:
Figure 1 Basic molecular outline of alcohols
Figure 2 Methyl alcohol is a common industrial alcohol where the other 3 bonds of carbon attach to hydrogen.
Figure 3 Ethyl alcohol [C2H5OH]: Ethanol is found in alcoholic beverages, fruit, and are usually made by yeast. It is also used in conjunction with gasoline for engine fuel (E-85 for instance).
Figure 4 Isopropyl alcohol: Isopropyl alcohol is what is found in rubbing alcohol sometimes dubbed “wood alcohol”. This form of alcohol is poison.
There are many more and some are longer chains but they still follow the basic format of a C bonded to an OH. Because of their basic molecular structure, they are soluble in water.
In this article series, we are examining and discussing the alcohol chain specifically dealing with alcoholic beverages, ethyl alcohol, but bear in mind that some ethanol cannot be drank (denatured ethanol for example) but that is not for this discussion. So when discussing alcohol, this is what is referred to in the remainder of this book.
Essentially, yeast (small fungi) “eat” sugars and replicate. In this process, the end result produces carbon dioxide (which is good for plants) and alcohol (which is a natural solvent to break down carbon based molecules that are insoluble in water). Also, it is a natural renewable fuel. Yeast provides a process that is essential to keeping a balanced world and thus, it makes sense that yeast was working in a proper fashion in perfect world to produce alcohol.
What day was yeast created (since our primary source of alcohol is yeast)?
The Bible simply does not tell us. Genesis 1:1-2:3 gives the highlights and order of creation week and yeast was not a highlight; that does not mean it was not important. But until recent times, few people studied the various tiny fungi that produce alcohol. It really wasn’t until a French Christian named Louis Pasteur did an in-depth study on the subject in the A.D.1800s.
Usually, Christian commentators logically deduce that various bacteria and fungi associated with the particular creatures were created alongside them during that creation day. For example, water-dependent bacteria would have been created on Day 5 with water creatures. Bacteria or fungi associated with land animals or man (e.g., like those that live in our gut in a symbiotic relationship, i.e., probiotics) would have been created on Day 6 along with man or the animals. Keep in mind that the Bible never calls fungi, bacteria, or even plants as living creature (nephesh chayyah in Hebrew). Animals were living, and humans are living but humans unlike animals were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
Regardless, it may be several different days that various fungi (and bacteria) would have been created depending on the type, purpose and with what it was associated. Regardless, it was during creation week and all very good in perfect symbiotic relationships originally of the whole creation (Nehemiah 9:6, Genesis 1:31).
- After the Fall
After the fall, things changed. The world went from a perfect state to a world marred with death and suffering due to man’s sin. Man had dominion over the world, so when man fell, so did man’s dominion. In fact, this is the reason Christ later stepped into history to become a man and die for mankind to redeem and save them. It goes back to the fall. This is why we die and why we suffer; our common parents disobeyed God’s command. And a perfectly Holy God must punish sin justly. But a loving God also cared enough to step in die in our place; this is grace.
But as a result, the world was no longer perfect (e.g., thorns and thistles came forth in Genesis 3:18, animals were cursed in Genesis 3:14, etc.). Paul even proclaimed that the whole creation was suffering under this curse (Romans 8:22). This is why we need a new heavens and new earth discussed in Revelation 21 and 22.
Did alcohol come into existence as a result of sin?
The Bible doesn’t say but likely not. What we can be sure of is that there was no longer a perfect symbiotic relationship with things.
It seems perfectly logical to conclude that alcohol was being produced by the natural physiology by which God created fungi prior to sin. Fungi provided a vital role in a perfect creation. It was to break down sugars, e.g., sugars in fruit or grains that fall to ground, and provide CO2 back to the atmosphere for plants to use and nutrients back to the soil.
Did abuse of alcohol begin after sin?
No doubt it was after sin that abuse of alcohol began. Very little information has been revealed to us by God in the Bible about the pre-Flood world. There are only 6 dedicated chapters in Genesis and 2 of those (Genesis 1 and 2) were talking of the pre-Fall world!
Jesus did give a potential hint to it in Luke 7. Consider the phrase “eating and drinking”; it was directly associated with alcoholic beverages as the Jews of Christ’s generation claimed of Christ that He was a “glutton and a winebibber” when He was eating and drinking. In other words, they claimed Christ was a drunk for drinking and this was directly contrasted to John the Baptist, who was not “eating bread and drinking wine” in Luke 7:33-34. And Jesus reveals of the pre-Flood world:
“For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark (Matthew 24:38).
This knowledge of fermented drinks was surely common to the pre-Flood world and is likely where Noah attained the knowledge to make wine prior to his incident after the Flood. But there will be more to this in coming sections.
- After the Flood
After the Flood, the world had changed again. This time, it was due to destruction of the earth by water (2 Peter 3:5-6) and numerous other factors involved. For example, many Christians believe the continents were shifted at this time and the mountains and ocean basins we have today were formed as a result of the Flood. They even denote that the world’s climate underwent a significant change and caused an Ice Age that followed the Flood and we are still essentially recovering from that as you read this.
Some have suggested that the rearrangement of bacteria and fungi throughout the world at the time of the Flood has caused further problems since these creatures are no longer “stationed properly” as in the previous world, where things were a little closer to the original perfect world. Essentially, bacteria and fungi were now growing and reproducing outside their normal boundaries and that can cause problems. Increased sickness for man and animals are but one result when you ingest bacteria and fungi that are not helpful to you.
In other words, in a pre-Flood and pre-Fall world, some bacteria would have been in a perfect relationship, but now they cause problems in a different environment.
Did Noah know that the wine could get him drunk?
Based on some of the thoughts in the section above, some have suggested that this is when alcoholic beverages first came to be, due to this imbalance. The argument is basically that due to this imbalance, wine is now alcoholic after the Flood and Noah didn’t know it.
There are problems with this of course. First, grapes have what is called “bloom”. Natural yeast cells are on the grape skin by design and these permeate the grape in small controlled amounts to cause small amounts of alcohol to form inherently. This alcohol is beneficial in that it destroys bacteria that try to get into the grape and cause problems. It is common for many fruits to contain minute amounts of alcohol for this purpose. In fact, this is why things like wine can keep for long periods of time; the alcohol protects it from harmful bacteria. Furthermore, many winemakers use this naturally occurring yeast to ferment their wine. It is not as predictable but still effective.
Second, Noah was likely very aware of what he was drinking. We often overlook a key phrase in the Scriptures (“Noah drank of the wine”). This implies that it was not the first time he drank some, and logically he would have made sufficient amounts to store until the next harvest. One translation even mark this out as “drank some of its wine – NIV”). After all, a vineyard is not a few vines, but entire groves of the vines.
Lastly, recall Jesus statement about eating and drinking prior to the Flood (see Matthew 24:38 and Luke 7:33-34? Was there more naturally occurring fermentation going on after the Flood, I would indeed leave this option open.
Was the knowledge of beer (source: barley/wheat) and mead (source: honey) known in Noah’s day?
The Bible simply does not tell us. Noah lived 350 years after the Flood and was alive for 600 years until the Flood came. If Noah had knowledge about wine making with his vineyard grapes, then there is no reason to assume he didn’t know how to do it with other fruits, grains, and sugars, which is an identical process.
In fact, brewing wine, mead (which is simply honey wine and even easier to make than grape wine), and beer (made from malted grains like barley and wheat) are all very similar. If one can do wine, then they can do the others rather easily. Archaeologically, we have records of ancient Sumerians (early descendants of Noah) making beer (more on this in a moment). So the knowledge was available early post-Flood.
So I would leave open the option that this knowledge was available at the time of Noah–who lived for 350 years after the Flood. It makes more sense that intelligent people who knew how to make wine could do slight deviations to make beer and mead than the common explanation given by the secular world about the origin of beer.
In the secular view, a farmer “who wasn’t so bright” left some grain (e.g., barley) outside and it got rained on and started to germinate then wild yeast started to convert the sugars and the farmer drank some of the fermented beverage as it leaked out. Hence, he got drunk from there, decided to repeat the process. This is but one the variations I’ve heard over the years.
It is a cute story, but that is how mythology gets started. Although, not everyone on the secular side believes the origin of beer came via this type of story. And many have recognized this. It is better to realize that intelligent people can do variations from grape wine to use other ingredients to make beer and mead.
- Results from Babel
As people migrated from Babel in the Mesopotamian area to other parts of the world, they took brewing with them. In many cases, they took cultivated crops like grapes or grains with them. But in other instances, people used the native fruits and grains in the place to which they migrated. Obviously, the knowledge of wine making was around before Babel, with Noah. Noah’s sons and grandsons were surely familiar with this process as well. Furthermore, winemaking has been found throughout the world, even in ancient times. Even variations of meads and beer have as well.
For example, people who made it to the Americas used a grain called maize (corn) to make alcohol. In Peru for example, there is an ancient purple corn drink Chicha that had an alcoholic version by chewing the corn and then putting it back out in a container and allowing it to ferment. The fermented version is done differently today.
Others used grains like rice, rye, oats, or fruits like blackberries, raspberries, apples, and so on. In some cases, other sweeteners were used like maple syrup, molasses, and so on. As you can see there were many variations.
What archaeological finds confirm an early use of alcoholic beverages, particularly beer?
There been a host of things found, primarily in written form or pottery images. Naturally, the dates given by the secular side have errors, as they do not follow biblical dating and need to be converted to the biblical timeframe. Their long-age dates will not be used in light of this fact.
- In the Zagros Mountains at Godin Tepe (today Iran, where Noah’s descendants of Elam and Madai, the Elamites [including the Persians] and Medes respectively, settled after Babel), there was fermentation residue in pottery that had chemical deposits of Calcium Oxalate known as a “beerstone”. Laced in the fermentation vessel, this was evidence of barley brewing specifically. Also at the same location, were wine jars and carbonized barley.
- The Hymn of Ninkasi was an ancient song written on clay tablets that included a beer recipe in land of the Sumerians, which is where Nimrod took over after events at the Tower of Babel. Interestingly Ninkasi is the daughter of Enki, Lord Nidimmud, who may well be Nimrod or someone who later sat in royal lineage and title of Nimrod. Ninkasi was elevated to a “godlike” status by later descendants (it was common for pagans to elevate ancestors to the level of “gods”). Though of course, they are not gods at all. Anchor Brewing Company followed the recipe and named the beer Ninkasi.
- Ancient pottery found in the tomb of King Midas (yes, he was real, but has been “mythized” too) in modern-day Turkey revealed a beer recipe that Dogfish Head brewery also cloned and now offers it commercially entitled: “Midas Touch”.
- Israelites were known for their wine and drink offerings throughout the Old Testament beginning in Genesis.
- Ancient village of Jiahu in Northern China (some of Noah’s descendants primarily out of Sineus (Sinites) yielded some pottery that had residues that were tested. Based on the residues, a basic beer/mead/wine recipe resulted. It contained grape, honey, and rice and other fruits. One brewery (Dogfish Head) decided to recreate this beverage and named it Chateau Jiahu.
Americas (We already discussed one previously, alcoholic Chicha from corn.)
- An ancient brewery in Peru was found aloft a mountaintop that was used to make an alcoholic version of Chicha.
- An alcoholic beer made from chocolate was made by the Aztecs called Cocao Wine.
- A large-scale archaeological site was a brewery in ancient Egypt (descendants of Noah’s son Mizraim) at Hierakonpolis near Luxor. The residuals left in the ceramic vats included grapes, dates, and wheat.
- Romans (Rome was founded by Romulus in 748 B.C.) used to ferment fish into a horrible concoction called Garum used in various cuisines along with wine and beer.
- Vikings, Germans, British, Scots and other northern European ancients like Celts have evidence of drinking in ancient times. But let’s not be tedious here.
The list could go on, but this should be sufficient to show ancient use of alcoholic beverages after the Tower of Babel events occurred in various parts of the world. Leading a researcher in the area of archaeological and history of beer making, Professor Patrick McGovern (Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia), has researched many of these and more in his books and articles. Although reproductions of some of these are based on residuals at the bottom of fermentation container, we need to keep in mind that several different batches of things could have been brewed and left residual in these containers. So the assumption that each of these was used in one batch is speculative to say the least, but possible and interesting nonetheless.
The point is that alcoholic drinks from wine to mead to beer and “everything in between” has been found all over the world. This is good confirmation that the information was known prior to the split at Babel for this technology to spread throughout the world in ancient times. Then as people settled, they used what was in their area to make and ferment beverages.
It is possible that through trade and migrations this process was shared, but that would tend to have similar types and not necessarily the variety we saw in ancient cultures. For example, when Europeans came to America they brought their recipes for beer, etc. to America. In other words, they brewed things similar to the Europeans (e.g., Christian Moerlein in Cincinnati brewed beers similar to German beers), not harnessing maize or chocolate (in recent times, brewers in North America been investigating all sorts of things though). Though I would leave this possibility open and I’m sure this influences alcoholic beverages during later migrations, I would suggest the primary reason for ancient alcohol, was due to the knowledge of brewing, including beer and mead, prior to the dispersion at Babel with Noah’s family.
- The Bible and Alcohol
Wine/winepress/winebibber/wine worker is mentioned 215 times in the NKJV. Here are some of these uses (Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek, Strong’s number and what it was often translated as):
tiyrowsh, 08492, New wine
yayin, 03196, Wine
gath, 01660, Winepress
chamar, 02562, Aramaic for wine [Aramaic is a Hebrew language (language of Eber) that carried over from the reign of the Babylonian Empire that was made up of descendants of Abraham’s relatives that originated in Chaldea (think of Ur of the Chaldeans, of which Abraham was called out). After the Empire, the Chaldean form of Hebrew broke into two variations-East Chaldee and West Chaldee. West Chaldee became known as Aramaic since it dominated the land formerly known to Aram, a descendant of Noah. Hence, the language was a trade language due to the influence of the Babylonian Empire and was until it began being replaced by Greek around the time of Christ as the new trade language. Hence Aramaic and Hebrew of the Old Testament have many similarities.]
aciyc, 06071, Sweet wine;
cobe, 05435, Heavy drinking of wine;
tsa‘ah, 06808, Wine worker
yeqeb, 03342, Wine vat, wine press
Oinos, 3631, wine, winepress
Oxos, 3690, Sour Wine, vinegar mixture
Gleukos, 1098, sweet wine
Paroinos, 3943, given to wine, drunkenness
Other words were also used for alcoholic beverages besides wine such as “drink offering” in Numbers 28:7 (necek) or “strong drink” as in Proverbs 20:1 (shekar) and many others. All this is to say that the Bible does not shy away from the topic and much can be learned from reading these passages in context.
There were quite a few people in the Bible who drank wine, told people to drink, received, and gave wine. Here is a list of some of these people:
|1||People before the Flood||Matthew 11:18-19; 24:38; Luke 7:33-34; 17:27|
|5||Lot (and daughters)||Genesis 19:32-35|
|6||Job’s sons and daughters||Job 1:13|
|10||Aaron and the Levite Priests||Numbers 18:12, Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 23:13, etc. (but there were restrictions, e.g., while working at the Temple (Leviticus 10:9)|
|12||Boaz and Ruth||Ruth 2:14|
|13||Jesse and David||1 Samuel 16:20|
|14||Abigail to David||1 Samuel 25:18-35|
|15||David||2 Samuel 16:1|
|16||Solomon||Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:2-4|
|17||Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach Meshach and Abednego)
|19||Jesus||Luke 7:33-34; John 2:1-11, John 19:29-30|
|20||Paul to Timothy||1 Timothy 5:23|
Cite this Article:
- D. Abrahams, Alcohol and the Bible? Part I: Origin and Biblical History of Alcohol, Biblical Authority Ministries, January 7, 2016, https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/alcohol-and-the-bible-part-i/.
To be continued in Part 2
 Some claim the Arabs and Greeks knew of this process but it was not until the A.D. 1100s that we evidence of it; but it could have been much early that our records of it. Forbes, Robert James (1948) A short history of the art of distillation, p.89, see also Proverbs 20:1.
 New Answers Book 2, Ken Ham, Gen. Ed., Chapter 4 How old is the earth? by Bodie Hodge, Master Book, Green Forest, AK, 2008, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab2/how-old-is-the-earth.
 Jim Clark, ChemGuide, 2003, http://www.chemguide.co.uk/organicprops/alcohols/uses.html
 For a good treatment of this subject, I suggest the book How could a loving God…, Ken Ham, Master Books, Green Forest, AK.
 New Answers Book 1, Gen. Ed. Ken Ham, Master Books (Green Forest, AK), 2006, pp. 186-197.
 New Answers Book 1, Gen. Ed. Ken Ham, Master Books (Green Forest, AK), 2006, pp. 207-219.
 Many of the connections of peoples listed here come from Josephus, a Jewish Historian living about 2,000 years ago. See his book The Antiquity of the Jews Book 1, Chapter 6: Nations receive their names from their first inhabitants. 2219-1996 BC. See also Bodie Hodge’s expanded research on this on DVD: The Tower of Babel,
 McGovern, P., Barley Beer, Biomolecular Archaeological Museum, http://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=84.
 Smithsonian website, The Beer Archaeologist, Abigail Tucker, August 2011, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Beer-Archaeologist.html
 National Geographic News, John Roach, July 18, 2005, National Geographic Website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/07/0718_050718_ancientbeer.html and http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/07/0718_050718_ancientbeer_2.html.
 Science magazine, Beer of Kings, Mary Beckman, July 30, 2004, http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2004/07/30-02.html.
 Heirakonpolis Online, “Explore the City of the Hawk”, http://www.hierakonpolis-online.org/site/brewery.html
 Ancient History Website, N.S. Gill, Garum, http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romanfood/g/garum.htm ; Ussher, J., The Annals of the World, Master Books (Green Forest, AK), translated by Larry and Marion Pierce, 2003, p 76.
 Professor Patrick McGovern , http://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=10